Is My Data Really MY Data?

Last week, a relative sent me an invitation to upload my family data to a website that builds Family Trees. My first reaction was, NO WAY!! Why would I voluntarily upload my personal data knowing that once uploaded, it’s only a matter of time until others (some with possibly malicious intent) will gain access to it?

The next day, I mentioned this opportunity to a friend. He laughed and said that I should stop deluding myself. Not only is all my Data already “out there”, but I am the idiot who gave permission for most sites to utilize my data as they see fit.

Over the last 2 decades, internet companies have become savvier as to the value of user data and have developed better tracking tools to collect data to optimize the “user experience”. But it has gone way beyond tracking and just enhancing the user experience. Today, user information is an unregulated industry unto itself generating billions of dollars.

To counterbalance the vast amount of personal data being collected, governments have stepped into the fray by implementing regulations to control data collection and usage of PII (Personally Identifiable Information).

Yet, even with the institution of new regulatory restrictions, we as users still voluntarily share our PII on social media and other websites to personalize and enhance our own user experience. Let’s face it, whenever we opt-in and agree to Terms of Use, we are saying, “sure go ahead and capture my PII”, knowing that this data will be shared somewhere.

It is a known fact that many established industry leaders such as Facebook and Google share private data. Recently, we have seen some situations that led to large financial penalties being incurred. According to a recent CNET article, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will now be fining Facebook $5 Billion for improper data usage. Apparently, a Facebook partner accessed the PII of over 87 million people, using their data to increase revenues. In this case, the partner did so without the end-user authorization. Is this type of potential penalty going to be enough to stop companies from doing this again in the future?

Maybe there is another way to approach this issue. What if I as a user, am okay with sharing my data with sites selling my PII to third parties? What if sharing my PII, means that I benefit in some way? For example, maybe I would have a better user experience or maybe I would even receive a share of the revenue generated off of my PII. After all, it’s MY data! Why should I not be paid for it?

Following this line of reasoning, lots of questions come to mind:

  1. What can my data be used for?
  2. What if by sharing my data I infringe on someone else’s privacy?
  3. What are the red lines that should not be crossed?
  4. Can I legally choose to ignore laws enacted in my country that were designed to protect me?
  5. Is it considered fraud if I provide false information?
  6. How can we ensure that my basic right to privacy will still remain intact?
  7. Most importantly, am I willing to give up my right to privacy for a price and how high is that price?

Although many details on how this would work and what protections need to be implemented still need to be ironed out, this may in fact be the next phase of the internet. Do you think we should be allowed to willingly share our data for a profit? Let me know what you think.

About the Author: Steve Tover is the CEO of AnyLaw is a free service that provides a no-cost alternative solution to the unnecessary and exclusionary expense of legal research.